By The Coach and 1970’s Gooner
Why is it that England has not excelled in the international arena since the 1966 World Cup which was held on home soil?
After this famous victory, the fortunes of England have followed mostly a downward direction.
For the next forty years the maximum the national team has achieved is to reach the semi finals of a major competition only three times:
the 1968 European Nations Cup (as it was called then), the World Cup in 1990 and six years after that, in 1996, in the European Championships, which were held in England.
Since then and in between the England national team has failed to progress beyond the quarter finals of any international tournament.
Why is this so?
The simple answer is of course that there have not been enough world class football players in England.
In our opinion the reason for this lies on the emphasis placed by society in England on several character related attributes, which in the end help to stifle any skills that a young player may possess.
These attributes, admirable as they are, concentrate more on the traditional English values of commitment, work ethos, effort and physical and mental strength.
All very important and very necessary elements in what makes a world class player.
But alas not sufficient.
By overemphasizing their importance, the most significant attribute that a footballer needs to succeed is ignored, or rather obstructed in its development: football skills.
All these character related attributes inevitably manifest themselves in all aspects of the English game.
In the way the players themselves play the game.
In the way English coaches encourage their players to conduct themselves on the pitch and in their choice of strategies and tactics for the games.
And in the way the referees interpret the laws
In this four part series we look at each of the above in turn (the fourth part is the conclusion).
Part I: Footballers lack flair and those that have it sacrifice it to conform
There are a lot of worried voices in the England football scene, not least Sir Trevor Brooking.
They point their finger at the proliferation of foreign players as the reason why the national team is underperforming.
Sir Trevor said:
“Last year about 40 per cent of the starting eleven in the Premier League were English.
If you look at Italy when they won the last World Cup, I think they had over 70 per cent of their league made up of domestic players. Spain, France, Holland, they're all up there in the 60 per cents”.
Our opinion is that the very large number of foreign players in the Premier League is a result of the obvious lack of technically gifted and skillful English players NOT the cause of it.
A football manager is only concerned in signing the best players for his football club. And it’s obvious that their vote goes abroad.
And when occasionally gifted English players surface they are stifled by the proliferation of mediocrity around them and the imposed need to curtail their natural flair so that they conform to the conservative tactics of the coaches.
One example should be enough to demonstrate this point.
When Joe Cole was a teenager playing for West Ham he was dazzling and played more like a Brazilian rather than an English man.
Did anyone see Joe Cole display these skills as a Chelsea player?
In order to be successful under a very ambitious tactical manager he had to shift the emphasis of his game from elegance and skill to his newly acquired physical qualities.
Even when Joe Cole shines on the field (and sometimes he does) it is more because of his speed rather than his dribbling or amazing foot tricks. He certainly hasn’t shown them for England.
There are other skillful players who have not even been regulars on the international scene. And we can think of a number of creative and skillful English players over the years that have been sidelined into international obscurity.
Their elegant approach to the way the beautiful game should be played sadly curtailed because it would not fit in with the overall way of playing in England.
Glen Hoddle of Spurs (8 caps), Mat Lettisier of Southampton (8 caps), Charlie George of Arsenal (1 cap), Alan Devonshire of West Ham (8 caps), Stan Bowles (5 caps) and Rodney Marsh (9 caps) both of QPR and Peter Osgood of Chelsea (4 caps) to name but a few.
Le Tissier himself has claimed that had he been French or Italian, he would have won many more international caps.
The emphasis on work rather than flair was revealed by what Sir Alf Ramsey is reported to have said to Rodney Marsh before an international game:
‘I'll be watching you for the first 45 minutes and if you don't work harder I'll pull you off at halftime," to which Marsh replied: “Crikey, Alf, at Manchester City all we get is an orange and a cup of tea”.
He was never selected for the England team again.
Michel Platini famously attacked England for neglecting creativity;
“had Hoddle been born French”, he said, 'he would have won 150 caps'
In the second part we will look at the role that English coaches play.